Chrissie Wellington’s Guide to the Open Water: Pt 2/5

Part two of Chrissie Wellington's guide to the open water sees the Ironman World Champ focus on pre-race and race day preparation


Issue ID: June 2012


Water temperature, buoy locations, position of the sun and where to warm-up. Chrissie leaves no stone unturned when gearing up for the race start…

Prior to your race make sure you’re clued up on what awaits you. Surf the respective triathlon event website, look at the athlete’s guide and course maps, and seek advice and insights from athletes who’ve done the race before.

For the swim, make sure you know the exact distance you’ll need to cover and the type of open water you’ll be swimming in. For example, canal, sea, river… Beginners, in particular, need to ensure they’re able to complete the distance in the allocated timeframe before entering the race, but regardless of ability it’s always good to be aware of the swim cut-off time.

The race rules are there for a reason – for your safety and wellbeing [see p45 for more on triathlon rules]. For the swim, read up on the rules regarding wetsuits (and clothing, in general) and water temperatures.

Consider what type of start it will be – deep water, beach or (rarely) a dive start.
And whether it’s a mass start (every athlete starts at the same time) or a wave start(when athletes are divided up, usually by age-group category).

Finally, check your start time and find out where you can do a warm-up and for how long.


If you get chance to swim the course prior to the race, ideal! But this is rare so, usually on race day, familiarise yourself with the swim entrance and exit, swim direction (clockwise or anticlockwise) and the location of (and distance between) the buoys. Also look for land-based landmarks before you take to the water. Work out whether the sun will be in your eyes and plan your goggle choice accordingly.

If it’s a major event that uses a public stretch of water, like the sea, then you might get the chance to do a practice swim prior to the race. This can be invaluable in helping you establish sight lines and land-based markers around the course, and enable you to become familiar with the conditions, although these may change come race day. If you don’t have this option, still find out about the water conditions, such as tides, currents, the ocean floor or hazards.

And, finally, know the lay out of transition: the swim exit, change tents, your bike rack, and the bike and run exits.


Every athlete will get slightly nervous before a race. It’s a sign of how much time, energy, commitment and emotion you’ve invested, and how much you care. It’s vital that you focus on yourself and not on others around you, and that you concentrate on what you can control, rather than what you can’t.

Spend 10 minutes or so before your final warm-up – see right – to find a calm area to sit down, take deep, slow and rhythmical breaths and visualise the race. You may wish to use an iPod if you find music to be a calming/motivational tool. Fill your mind with positive thoughts, recall your motivations and inspirations, repeat your personal mantra, and picture yourself as strong, confident and successful in each of the three disciplines.


Know that you have done all you can to prepare. Try to seize the moment, enjoy your surroundings and celebrate being able to take part in an amazing race.